Seeing the Invisible
Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Lesson 7: Romans 1:18-25
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
When you look up into a cloudless night sky you can see stars of different brightnesses arranged in breathtaking patterns. If you look closely you can see that some have a slight color to them. With binoculars or a simple telescope you can see that some of the bright spots are more like little clouds than points of light.
The light from those distant stars has a lot more information in it than what you see with the eye. If you pass the light through a device that shows its spectrum you will see bands of colors that are different for each kind of star. If you magnify the spectrum and spread it out you can see little details in it. There are dark lines that sometimes split up into many very fine lines. The dark bands are caused by gasses absorbing certain colors as the light passes through the surface of the star. The splitting of the lines appears to be caused by the effects of the star’s gravity as the light streams away toward our planet. Sometimes the lines are shifted from where they ought to be on the spectrum. That’s because the star is moving away from us at very high speeds.
Star light often changes in cycles too. Some stars grow brighter then dimmer every month or so. Some stars pulse many times a second like a fast rotating lighthouse beacon. If you look at a graph of the radio and x-ray signatures coming from the stars you see amazing patterns. Each pattern has details that tell us a lot about the star, what is between us and the star, and how the distant star is behaving.
But there is more there still, information beyond those measurable physical features. Creation is pouring fourth information about the Creator every moment of every day. This amazing declaration is not just found in the stars. It is there to behold in the intricacy and beauty of the flowers, trees, and grass on the planet where we live. It can be seen in the complexities in the behaviors of ants, sea gulls, panthers, and alligators. It’s there in the textures, colors, and chemical composition of the rocks, soil, and sand. This testimony is always available to everyone in all the world.
The truth about God is not hidden.
God made all things to tell about himself. Romans 1:19-20 explains it from the Creator’s point of view. It says, “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”
This was not a new idea that Paul was referring to. God had explained this in his word from the beginning. David put it this way in the opening words of the 19th Psalm, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”
These verses in Romans explain that the visible things God made tell us about things we can’t see. They show us the Creator’s invisible attributes and glory.
This is a familiar principle. We often see the effects of things we can’t see directly. The wind can’t be seen, but we can see things being moved by it so we know it is there. Even art follows this principle as it attempts to tell us something about the invisible feelings and perceptions of the artist.
All of creation is the artwork of God. By observing what is made, we can see a display of God’s truth.
But, how much does creation tell us about God?
It is amazing how much information is pouring forth from the things God made. We just read Psalm 19:1 which tells us that the heavens and earth are constantly declaring “… the glory of God, and His handiwork.” Our text in Romans 1:20 says that the visible things Created show God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature (some translations say “Godhead”).
Other passages in Scripture show us that even more information is being given out. There is the warning in Psalm 94:9, “He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see?”
Of course this isn’t telling us that the invisible God, who is spirit, has actual ears and eyes. It is explaining that these things reflect something about the God who made them. We are aware of things, so is God. He gave us senses to become aware. Certainly God is aware of the same things he made us able to see and hear.
Long discourses in the book of Job explain how God shows his power and sovereign glory in the acts of nature. His power and glory are seen in the lightning, floods, wind, earthquakes, and similar things.
The apostles taught this truth as they spread the gospel:
When Paul and Barnabas came to the city of Lystra, the people began to honor them as if they were gods. Horrified, they explained to them that the one true living God is the One who made all things, and has controlled the course of history. He is revealing himself all the time. What the Apostle taught them is recorded in Acts 14:15-17.
“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
It is God who gives us the rain and our food. He gives us any gladness we might have. Nothing we have is deserved. It is all given by the mercies of our holy provider. By all this, he is witnessing of himself to all of mankind all of the time.
Paul told the Greek philosophers in Athens that since God is creator and since we are his creation, we should not think of God in terms of material images of silver and stone. It is in him that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28-29)
The Westminster Confession (21:1) summarizes this principle saying, “The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. …”
All this information is pouring forth from creation day and night. God put it there for that purpose.
Clearly God says he is revealing himself in detail all the time. This raises an important and obvious question.
Why is God’s truth not appreciated by ever observer of creation?
Something is wrong. Immediately after Psalm 19 speaks of how the heavens and the earth are declaring God’s glory, the next verse says, “There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard.”
There is a problem with the usual English translation of this verse. The word “where” is not there. There is no word or grammar structure in the Hebrew text to justify it being inserted. Usually they put the word “where” in italics to show that it is a translators insertion. Some believe that it was inserted because some had a problem with the teaching of the text if simply translated the way it is. A more accurate translation is, “There is no speech. There are no words; Their voice is not heard.”
Why, after saying that heaven and earth are pouring forth God’s message, would it say that their voice is not heard? Paul explains it in his letter to the Romans. He even quotes from this 19th Psalm to prove his point.
The fact is, we are lost in sin and that effects our ability to see the glory of God in creation. Paul summarized this biblical truth through out his letters to the churches.
Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.”
1Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
God tells us that as fallen humans we strip away the truth as we see what God made. Paul referred to this same idea later in Romans 10:18. There he wrote, “But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: ‘Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ ”
Do you recognize those words Paul uses? They are also taken from Psalm 19. Right after he said that the words of nature are spoken he adds the next verse from Psalm 19, “Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,”
The testimony of creation reaches all men even before the gospel comes to them. It is so clear that, as Romans 1:20 says, it leave them “without excuse!” God has made his truth “manifest to them.” (Romans 1:19). That means it is clear evidence, even if they ignore it or suppress what all of creation is declaring.
The message of creation is clear. It comes to us intact and clear.
The problem is with us, not with the message. Fallen man’s nature immediately strips the truth of God from what he sees. The unbeliever is left without any excuse for this.
So, who are those to whom this truth is shown in Romans 1:19? It is the ungodly, the unbelievers, those without a love for the gospel. Verse 18 of Romans 1 makes this clear: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,”
In Romans 1:21-25 Paul explained how the truth is suppressed and actually perverted by our fallen minds.
“because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Our fallen hearts are so prejudiced against
the real truth about God that they assume lies.
In trying to make up a religion more to his own liking, those still alienated from God’s fellowship accept a perversion of creation’s message. For example, the Humanist Manifesto in its first three articles affirms “the universe as self-existing and not created,” that “man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process,” and that “the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.”
Such statements deny the obvious. To avoid facing the truths God has made known, the unredeemed must prove some kind of evolution of man. He must deny the existence of a spiritual part of man and accept him as just a complex bio-chemical machine. So he distorts everything to fit his pre-conceived ideas and conclusions about himself and the universe in which he lives.
God’s truth is rejected and replaced by many different religious and non-religious theories. But as Paul explains in Romans, all of these attempts exchange truth for a lie, and exalt some part of creation over the God who made it.
In humanism man and his desires are greater than the real needs God put into man. In socialism society is more important than the God who made its members. In materialism the universe determines all things by laws and chance without a Creator. In false religions man’s deeds, choices, and rituals are his way of salvation, God becomes the servant of man waiting for man to do the right thing so he can do good to his creatures.
The whole of creation cries out against these ideas. It declares an infinitely powerful God and his divine nature. It tells us that all things depend upon him and that he depends upon nothing outside of himself. The message is so clear that God’s word says it leaves us “without excuse”.
So then how do we know the true message
in creation if our fallen hearts distort everything?
God has also revealed his gospel, the good news. Jesus Christ died in place of his people to remove the offense that stands between them and God. Once redeemed and regenerated by God’s grace alone, our closed eyes are opened again. God’s word tells us clearly in Ephesians 2:4-6, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”
John Calvin explained this truth eloquently, “Therefore, though the effulgence which is presented to every eye, both in the heavens and on the earth, leaves the ingratitude of man without excuse, since God, in order to bring the whole human race under the same condemnation, holds forth to all, without exception, a mirror of his Deity in his works, another and better help must be given to guide us properly to God as a Creator. Not in vain, therefore, has he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation, and bestowed the privilege on those whom he was pleased to bring into nearer and more familiar relation to himself.” (institutes 1:6:1)
Therefore, it is by grace alone that any of us sees God’s glory revealed.
All who receive that grace ought to respond with thankful worship and service. We must be attentive to notice the things God has made and the wonder of them. Believers ought to love the study of God’s universe.
In our privileged moment in history, we have seen close up photographs of distant planets, unraveled the genetic codes that shape our physical bodies, and made computer chips smaller than the connectors on Edison’s first lamp. We can sit at a computer in the comfort of our home to visit and to chat with people from all over the world. We power our homes with the energy formerly locked up in the nuclei of atoms. We fight cancer with lasers, chemicals, and surgeries unknown a few years ago. We can transplant the human heart, lungs, and almost every major organ in the human body.
We ought not see these things as mere amazing advancements of humankind. We should see them as revealing the infinite glory of the God who made us and who gave us the raw materials we use in manufacturing what was thought to be impossible fiction just a few generations ago.
We should be appreciative of the things God made, let their truth impress us with the wonders of the Creator which they display. When walk along the beach, through a woods, or see people shopping at the mall we should say in our hearts with the prophet Jeremiah, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (Jeremiah 32:17)
We must be thankful for the wonders of creation, and for the grace that opens our eyes to take it in. This should show itself in loving obedience to the Creator of all things, the Infallible Redeemer of all his people.
How can we be silent about such wonderful things? Not only does nature declare the glory of its Creator, God’s children must declare the gospel of Christ that gives life to lost souls, and opens blinded eyes to the wonders that surround them.
The Psalmist simply cries out as should we …
Psalm 72:19, “And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.”
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)